The campaign to protect the Golden-cheeked Warbler continues with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently announcing that the bird will remain protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act.
The Setophaga chrysoparia, the bird that is more commonly known as the golden-cheeked warbler, is one of the endangered plants and animals that the Brazos River Authority's Environmental Services Department regularly monitors within the Brazos River basin. The warbler is small, yet eye-catching—it's just 4.5 to 5 inches long with a wingspan of about 8 inches. Its black stripes, white belly and bright yellow cheeks give the bird its unique name.
The Golden-cheeked Warbler usually makes its way to the Lone Star state at the beginning of March, traveling from their wintering grounds of Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala to begin their nesting season and raise their young. The males typically arrive first to establish their territory, with the females following close behind. It is the only bird species whose population nests entirely in Texas, specifically in the juniper-oak woodlands of Texas' central region, including the Brazos River basin.
There are two levels of protection that a species may be categorized on both a state and federal level: threatened and endangered. To be listed as an endangered species, a plant or animal must be in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its habitat range. The FWS and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department list the Golden-cheeked Warbler as an endangered species due to its population decline. The decrease is caused by the fragmentation and destruction of habitat and nest parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds. The warbler has been federally listed as an endangered species since Dec. 27, 1990.
According to the Daily Trib, a petition was filed on June 30, 2015, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that requested the golden-cheeked warbler be delisted from the endangered species list. A court case led by the state of Texas followed the petition.
The FWS completed the court-ordered analysis of the petition and released its findings on July 27, 2021. In its report, the FWS stated again that the Golden-cheeked Warbler warrants continued protection.
In its decision, which can be viewed here, the Fish and Wildlife Service stated, "We find that the petition to delist the golden-cheeked warbler (Dendroica chrysoparia) does not present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating the petitioned action may be warranted. Therefore, we are not initiating a status review of the species."
The Golden-cheeked Warbler already has a small range and population, but it reached endangered status when its nesting grounds became compromised by the cowbirds along with residential developments in their habitat. Many tall juniper and oak woodlands have been cleared throughout the years for urban developments or livestock grazing. Habitat loss on their wintering grounds due to timber harvest and agricultural development is also a problem.
The warbler is extremely dependent on their habitat. They require an older growth forest with a dense tree canopy to forage for their primary food source, which is insects. The migratory bird also uses the peeling bark found only on mature juniper trees, along with spider webs, for nest building.
To learn more about the Golden-cheeked Warbler and other species of interest within the Brazos River basin, visit the Brazos River Authority's new Environmental website tab here.